07/10/2015 05:58 EDT | Updated 07/29/2015 08:59 EDT

Harper Government Responds To Letter Claiming 'Errors' In CBC Doc


Canada’s environment minister is reviewing a letter from philanthropist Jim Balsillie raising concerns over “misleading” information presented in a CBC documentary about the Franklin expedition.

“I think it’s important that the contribution to the search is recognized accurately, that the history of the project is documented correctly,” reads the letter Balsillie sent to Leona Aglukkaq and the Prime Minister's Office on April 30.

He never received a response.

Aglukkaq’s communications director Ted Laking told The Huffington Post Canada the minister’s office plans to release a response “shortly,” but didn’t explain why they didn't reply to Balsillie at the time.

Balsillie is a founder of the Arctic Research Foundation, a group that provided significant resources to the government-led efforts to find the lost Franklin ships in the Arctic. The foundation paid for a ship that acted as a base for government personnel involved in the search.

“Franklin’s Lost Ships,” the documentary in question, aired April 9 on the CBC and profiled the search for the British explorer’s doomed 19th century expedition.

Truth vs. ‘New And Exaggerated Narratives’

The former co-CEO of Research In Motion wrote that he was “concerned” the CBC documentary contained information that “runs contrary” to what was discussed at a planning meeting in Aglukkaq’s office on June 9.

In the letter, Balsillie listed examples of what he regarded as “new and exaggerated narratives” that appear to benefit the Royal Canadian Geographical Society (RCGS). Environment Canada confirmed that RCGS partnered with Parks Canada for Franklin expedition coverage in April 2014.

RCGS CEO John Geiger said the group had no editorial control over the Franklin expedition documentary.

“We saw it for the first time when it aired on CBC just like the rest of the viewing public,” Geiger told The Canadian Press.

“I believe any concerns or comments are best directed at the filmmakers.”

Star Fallout

Geiger is identified by Pulitzer-winning photojournalist and Toronto Star reporter Paul Watson as someone who upset Franklin researchers and civil servants working on the search by “distorting facts” in interviews with the media.

“There is a climate of fear and that’s keeping people from speaking their minds, telling us information which they have gathered through research, experiment, expert knowledge,” Watson said in an interview with HuffPost.

On Tuesday, Watson resigned from his post at the Star citing the newspaper’s refusal to publish his story.

However Aglukkaq's office also said they had no influence over the documentary.

“The Government of Canada did not have editorial control over the documentary," said Laking.

His resignation ignited renewed attention on events surrounding HMS Erebus’s discovery. Watson defended his decision as a way for him to finish the story without editorial interference.

The decision came after a tense meeting with editor-in-chief Michael Cooke and executive editor Paul Woods in Vancouver. At that point, Watson said he had been told to back off from the story. Union representative Liz Marzari was also in attendance.

But Watson said Balsillie’s letter gave him the traction he needed to pursue the story. At the meeting with Cooke and Woods, he was asked to explain his story once more.

“That was indeed what I thought the story was. I don’t think that’s a story for the Star to engage in,” Cooke is heard saying in an audio recording of a portion of the meeting supplied to Canadaland.

One of the producers of the CBC documentary took to Twitter Friday, accusing Watson of making false statements against the filmmakers.

The Star maintains it did not suppress Watson’s story, which he says he plans to finish writing.

“There are relationships that need to be explained,” he added. “There are documents that need to be released so that there’s full scrutiny.”

Also On HuffPost:

Franklin Expedition

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